NCAA Championships - Nittany Lions Clinch 2016 National Title | VIDEO: Cael Sanderson
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NEW YORK - Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford put an exclamation point on Penn State's fifth team national championship in six season by earning their first individual national titles on Saturday night in sold out Madison Square Garden.
Having already clinched the 2016 NCAA title during the morning session, the Nittany Lions entered the evening with five individuals seeking their first championship in a Blue & White singlet. Megaludis and Retherford wrestled outstanding matches on the sport's biggest stage en route to a spot atop the podium inside The Garden.
Megaludis has been a rock solid competitor for the Nittany Lions since he stepped on to campus five years ago. No stranger to the stage at the national tournament, Megaludis ran out of his corner to the national title tilt for the third time in his career.
The Nittany Lion fifth-year senior jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a first-period takedown against Iowa's Thomas Gilman. The Murrysville native added a second takedown in the second and never looked back en route to a 6-2 triumph over Gilman.
The four-time All-American had a look in his eye that he was not going to be denied the opportunity to have his arm raised as a national champion in his final attempt at the ultimate prize.
When the clock ticked to zero, Megaludis erupted with jubilation. He immediately raised his arms to salute the boisterous Penn State faithful in the corner of Madison Square Garden. Megaludis then raced to the corner of the mat to embrace head coach Cael Sanderson and associate head coach Cody Sanderson before returning to the center to have his arm raised as a national champion for the Nittany Lions.
"I'm the champion. I don't know, man, nothing else to it. I'm the champion. It's a pretty good feeling," said Megaludis.
Megaludis has rarely shown any type of emotion after the 119 victories during his career, but this night was special. It has been five years of hard work and effort to reach the pinnacle of the sport, and Megaludis was grateful for the opportunity he earned on Saturday night.
"I'm just relieved. I knew I was going to be the champion," said Megaludis. "It was a done deal a year ago when I signed everywhere - my room, Penn State, my room at home, my bathroom at home, my wrestling room at home, my car steering wheel: I am 2016 national champion. I come into my car every day on my steering wheel and I see that and I brainwashed myself. And I don't know, I brainwashed myself and I got it done."
"He's a guy that we wanted to win in the worst possible way. And it was emotional," said Sanderson. "It was awesome. We're happy for him, a kid that works extremely hard. He's very disciplined and very consistent. Always gives his best effort. Very rare."
Retherford's run through the bracket at 149 pounds was nothing short of remarkable during the three-day tournament. After rolling to a 21-6 technical fall in the first round, Retherford pinned his next three opponents on his way to the final match against Brandon Sorenson from Iowa.
The Nittany Lion sophomore made it five-straight matches with bonus points in the final with a dominant 10-1 victory over Sorenson. Retherford tallied two takedowns in the first period, an escape and a takedown in the second, a takedown in the third and clinched the riding time point for a major decision victory.
No stage is too big for the Benton, Pa., native because each time he steps onto the mat, he does it with great enjoyment. Retherford is fierce with the pace he wrestles at, and his motor genuinely never stops. The amount of pressure he puts on opponents is relentless. But what separates him from most wrestlers is his attitude.
"I've been dreaming of this moment since I started going to camps when I was really little," said Retherford. "I looked at posters on the wall of guys who had won national titles wanting to be one of those guys. Today, it feels great to say that I have achieved it."
"He's only a sophomore. But the pressure he puts on his opponents and his ability to score points," said Sanderson. "We're glad he's only a sophomore. We wish he was a freshman. Or just coming into school, I guess. But great leader for us. We hope everyone can follow his lead. He made a huge jump from his freshman year."
Wrestling is a unique sport with the peaks and valleys of the national tournament. As a team, Coach Sanderson and the Nittany Lions reached the highest of highs after winning the team title earlier in the day. Megaludis and Retherford then claimed individual crowns, but the final three Lions on the mat came up just short of earning victories in their title bouts.
Jason Nolf and Illinois standout Isaiah Martinez put on a show at the 157-pound final, with Martinez scoring a late takedown to claim a 6-5 win. Bo Nickal then rallied from 9-4 down at the end of the second period and fell short by a count of 11-9 against Ohio State's Myles Martin in the 174-pound title match. Senior Morgan McIntosh's stellar career fell just shy, as well, in a narrow 4-2 decision to Missouri's J'Den Cox. The four-time All-American finished with a 114-19 career mark.
Coach Sanderson was thrilled with the collective team's efforts and the individual honors Megaludis and Retherford achieved, but he will enter the offseason hungry to watch the team improve and learn from its experiences in New York.
"Coaching wrestling is tough. Because it's a team game. We want to win as a team, obviously," said Sanderson. "But we have 10 individuals and as a coach my job is to help those individual. If the individuals do well, the team does well. So it's certainly bittersweet. It's tough, it's painful. It hurts when guys don't reach their goals. And in the long run those young guys, it will make them a bit hungrier, they'll have a little more urgency to improve. They'll come back here with fire."
Penn State finished the national tournament with 23.0 bonus points, six All-Americans, a sixth place finish, three second-place finishes and two national champions. Penn State now has 25 national champions (32 titles) in the program's rich history.
The recipe for success at the NCAA Wrestling Championships is consistency, and the Nittany Lions were stout for three days en route to a 25.5-point margin over the second-place team in the standings.
"I think, when you win the national championships, you've got to be pretty happy and pumped," said Sanderson. "Obviously a great team effort -- five guys in the finals, six All-Americans. We're happy. But we leave here ready to improve and build and get some freshmen to the next level. And we're happy we won but we're excited about the future also."
The Nittany Lions' reign over the wrestling world returned in Madison Square Garden. Penn State Wrestling is now a five-time national champion.
Final Team Standings
1. Penn State - 123.0
2. Oklahoma State - 97.5
3. Ohio State - 86.0
4. Virginia Tech - 82.0
5. Iowa - 81.0
Breaking Down the Nittany Lions
125: #3 Nico Megaludis (32-3) - 5-0 - NATIONAL CHAMPION
149: #1 Zain Retherford (34-0) - 5-0 - NATIONAL CHAMPION
157: #3 Jason Nolf (33-2) - 4-1 - Second Place
174: #1 Bo Nickal (33-2) - 4-1 - Second Place
197: #1 Morgan McIntosh (32-1) - 4-1 - Second Place
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